“How Did We Get Here: Primaries, Polarization, and Party Control”

Important essay that summarizes a lot of the literature on primary elections and suggests the need for greater party control. From Protect Democracy:

Parties are increasingly nominating candidates with little experience in politics, undermining the functionality of government and prioritizing posturing over legislating. This trend has been sharper among Republicans, but both parties have found the experience necessary for governing and coalition-building to be in shorter supply in recent years. One-term U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-NC) claim that “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation” could apply to quite a few members of his class. . . .

t also suggests a real weakness for American democracy. As Levitsky and Ziblatt describe, parties play a vital role in limiting the access of would-be authoritarians to power. Indeed, early 20th century figures like Charles Lindbergh, Huey Long, and Henry Ford considered seeking national office but were essentially rebuffed by party leaders who were concerned about their dictatorial potential. In an age of primaries, however, parties are far more likely to nominate such leaders….

It is possible, as Kamarck suggests, for parties to assert a level of “peer review” to the nomination process, requiring party officials to approve of candidates before those candidates can run. Parties could raise thresholds for participation in debates or even for voting in primaries. Somewhat surprisingly, state parties often raise or lower primary voting participation thresholds without producing massive legitimacy crises; perhaps they could do more in this direction.

As 2022 drew to a close, the Republican National Committee announced an internal review commission to examine a disappointing midterm election and proposed new paths forward for the party.Meanwhile, the Democratic National Commission prepared to overhaul its approach to presidential nominations, dethroning the first-in-the- nation Iowa caucuses in favor of the South Carolina primary. Both major American parties, that is, have signaled that they are open to changes to the status quo in order to preserve their long term viability and protect American democracy. This is an encouraging sign, and suggests that some of these reforms may indeed be considered.

Update: This paper was written by Seth Masket and Hans Noel.

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